Predicting a Robust Sunset

If you consider yourself a professional photographer, or you just enjoy a nice morning or evening walk there is a website called SunsetWX that can predict how beautiful the next sunrise or sunset will be. 

The founder loves meteorology and photography and found a way to combine those interests through SCIENCE!

They also have a Twitter account to follow to get an up-to-date sunrise/sunset forecast in your Twitter feed.

Weather Geek Apps

I am a weather geek and as a weather geek I’ve compiled a few of my favorite sites just for you to get accurate weather updates. What I’m about to provide you will be better than weather.com or the default weather app on your mobile device.

  • Weather Underground – This is my go to site. Weather Underground1 collects data from thousands of personal weather stations, and provides a ton of data at a glance. Their WunderMap feature can show storms, temps and more. Their mobile apps are also very great.
Weather Underground shows a lot of information at a glance.
Weather Underground shows a lot of information at a glance.
  • Dark Sky – My second go to, Dark Sky started out as a mobile app for iOS focusing on down to the minute predictions for precipitation. It was fairly reliable. After that they created a very cool site called forecast.io which incorporated the accurate precipitation predictions along with forecast data, and climate history with the time machine. Now they’ve updated all that with beautiful design and maps.
Fantastic looking forecasts with even better maps.
Fantastic looking forecasts with even better maps.
  • Ventusky– A map based web app that shows all kinds of weather data present and historical on a map.
Ventusky Displays really cool maps, but it will use your computers resources.
Ventusky Displays really cool maps, but it will use your computers resources.
  • WeatherSpark – WeatherSpark can provide all kinds of historical climate data for an area that can be used for predicting if it will be rainy, windy, or more for any time of year.
WeatherSpark has several visual graphs for all kinds of historical climate data.
WeatherSpark has several visual graphs for all kinds of historical climate data.

  1. Weather Underground has been around since the 90s. They were bought out by the Weather Channel, which was in turn purchased by IBM for all of their data collection. 

You Can’t Take The Sky From Me

Open World? Try Open Universe

2016’s most anticipated (and harshest reacted to) game No Man’s Sky has been getting a lot of press. Some good, some bad. In my opinion, it’s making a lot of people think about what games are, could, and should be.

I was smitten when the original trailer for No Man’s Sky debuted at E3 2014.

It was a view at an optimistic space game. Not one focused on war or battle, but just exploration and the great unknown beyond. It almost echoes the mission of the Enterprise: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Pushing Boundaries But Not Enough

I’ve enjoyed my time in the Euclid Galaxy1 thus far. The game may be repetitive and have no real goals other than just looking around, but it’s the journey, not the destination, that’s important. The game is very reminiscent of early Minecraft, other than it lacks any building mechanic. No Man’s Sky encourages you to see what’s in the next star system. Maybe something great lies there or maybe it will be horrible. Maybe I’m reading too much into the game as an allegory for life.

In my opinion, it’s undetermined if the $60 is worth the price of admission. Once you’ve invested several hours in the game, the late game doesn’t change very much. The early game is spent trying to expand the amount of things you can carry, but unfortunately when your character is able to carry many things, there isn’t any amazing thing you can do. But I can see coming back to this game and universe often in future years for a few hours at a time.

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No Man’s Sky was made by a ridiculously small team. Indie game development and game development in general is a rocky path to success. So I’m happy they’ve charged a full game price for the game. This is more sustainable for them to continue working on the game. I want to see more of what this game could be, so I am choosing to invest in it now. It may be a completely different experience in a few years, or it may not. The developers have been a bit dodgy with questions on what can happen when you come across another character in the game, and I believe Sony falsely marketed the game as an AAA release. But as a person who invested in Mighty No. 9 before that game even came out, I can tell you No Man’s Sky is much more enjoyable than that dumpster fire.

Imagine The Potential

When I travel to each new planet or star system, it makes me imagine a new open galaxy Metroid game starring Samus as she travels from star system to star system searching for answers about the Chozo2 while being hunted by the Space Pirates. The concept of No Man’s Sky will hopefully push the envelope of what is possible for the future.

No Man’s Sky is the closest thing out there that can simulate stepping into a world from science fiction where anything can happen. And you may be the only person ever to experience such worlds based on probability3. It has generated some feels for me unlike anything else and accomplished its goal of being able to step into a cover of a 70s sci-fi novel. Coupled with its amazing atmospheric soundtrack, it makes me feel alone in this vast universe4, and truly does capitalize on the the premise of to boldly go where no man has gone before.


  1. The games immense starting Galaxy. There’s more than one amazingly. 
  2. The now extinct race of people that raised Samus Aran after her parents where obliterated by Space Pirates. 
  3. The game features over 18 Quintillion planets. 
  4. Just like real life! 

There’s A Map For That: Part Two

Can Foursquare/Swarm or other social media be viable in life logging and plotting on a map?

Overview

When Foursquare first appeared I was a very happy camper. The app allowed you to “check in” to locations and share with your friends where you were and where you’ve been. It was the perfect way to keep track of places in this digital landscape. Over time they added gamification features like points and badges based on where you’ve checked in. It encouraged a sense of adventure and discovery. For people who wanted to retain their privacy the app still allowed you to check in to locations to add to your digital map. For a time, they focused on features like seeing your history on a map and allowing you to export your checkins.

In 2014 Foursquare split the checkin functionality off to another app: Swarm. Foursquare was to focus on finding businesses, restaurants and providing reviews like Yelp.

Swarm since has consistently updated its app, but has focused on the game features rather than the digital life map. There are still ways to get your checkins out of Swarm to plot on a map, but they are a bit more complicated.
This post will outline the high level steps of what is needed to export and plot your data. It will assume the reader will have knowledge of CSV files, manipulating data within a spreadsheet, and access to Google Drive. 

Exporting Your Data From Foursquare/Swarm

Fortunately Foursquare still has a page to export your data, even though they’ve gone on record that they do not support this feature any longer.

By navigating here you can download a KML of your checkins, or a CSV. Each will allow you to plot on Google Maps, but what they do not retain is the latitude and longitude of the location, rather, they rely on geocoding1 to plot on a map. This is problematic as addresses can change. Additionally each of these export methods export every checkin which can get convoluted if you check in to locations multiple times. Checking in to the same location multiple times makes sense from a journalistic format, but if you want to plot places you’ve been to it can quickly over-clutter your map.

You’ll need to modify the URL of the export link in order to include all of your checkins. I suggest modifying it 9999. Example: https://feeds.foursquare.com/history/THISISANEXAMPLESOWHATCOMEATME.rss?count=9999

Optional parameters: You can specify a ‘?count=25’ to pull down a different number of checkins from your history. If you are requesting the ICS or Google Calendar formats your entire history is exported.

Foursquare Export Options
Foursquare Export Options

Cleaning Your Data From Foursquare

One other format that Foursquare allows you to export as is GeoRSS. GeoRSS is an older format2 but it does contain latitude and longitude information. If you export your data out of Foursquare this way, you can retain latitude and longitude, but you will still have all of your duplicate entries. From here you can go to this site and convert your GeoRSS format to a CSV file which will allow you to modify this data in your favorite spreadsheet application. (See example below)

Export Example. You may need to play with these settings a bit to ensure it exports the way you need it.
Export Example. You may need to play with these settings a bit to ensure it exports the way you need it.

Within your favorite spreadsheet application (mine is Google Spreadsheets), you can remove duplicates based on a certain column. Now you should have a list of unique location checkins that you can export in CSV, or XLSX.

Plotting Your Data

Google has another application in it’s Google Drive suite called Google Fusion Tables. Fusion Tables allows you to import large data sets and display them in some sort of relevant fashion. Within Fusion Tables you can import your newly created Foursquare export data, and then plot it on a map within Fusion Tables. Once imported you can create a map view.

Google Fusion Table Map Plot
Google Fusion Table Map Plot

If you were to leave your duplicate entries intact you can display heat map data to show how often you are in certain areas. Additionally you could choose to filter this data based on your checkin dates, and more.

Once you make your fusion table downloadable you can then finally export your information as a KML file for plotting in Google Earth, Google Maps, or your personal backup.

Summary

So the answer to “Can Foursquare/Swarm or other social media be viable in life logging and plotting on a map?” is: Yes, but damn is it complicated for something that should be simple. I am surprised Swarm isn’t tapping into this a bit more in addition to the gamification options.

Hopefully you’ve found this informational3. Other social media sites that allow you to check in or store additional location data like Flickr4 are a bit harder to work with. Maybe someday I’ll find a way to show you how to work with those. At least while Foursquare allows you to export your data this is still a viable method. I hope other apps will allow you to do stuff with what is and should be your own data.

Next time, I’ll show you what you can do with an old handheld GPS unit.


  1. Geocoding is the process of reverse engineering an address to a physical location like latitude and longitude. Fortunately this is possible now but constantly needs to be updated with government information. 
  2. “but it checks out.” 
  3. If you are one of the tens of people looking for this. 
  4. Flickr used to be one of the innovators and advocates of geotagged information. They automatically geotagged photos from your EXIF metadata and plotted them on a map. Unfortunately you haven’t been able to see all of your photos on one map in a long time. But I hope one day this will be possible directly from Flickr.